Researchers from the University of Vermont, US analysed thousands of Twitter messages posted by more than 4,600 people from 160 parks and leafy areas (squares an playgrounds) in San Francisco between May and August 2016.
The experts were looking for posts featuring words that expressed glee or elation. The messages were then compared with posts the same users sent out before and after their walk outside.
The study’s findings showed that, on average, people used happier words and express less negativity while visiting a park and for up to four hours afterwards. It also suggested that the greener and bigger the park, the happier the tweets.
The researchers said that the study, which was published in the journal People and Nature, was the first-of-its-kind.
“Visiting parks leads people to being happier,” Aaron Schwartz, the survey’s lead researcher, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Schwartz’s team analysed the tweets using an online tool known as hedonometer, which measures the happiness of large populations in real time by ranking more than 10,000 common English terms on a scale from one to nine.
According to the tool, “laughter” is the happiest word on the scale, with a score of 8.5, followed by “happiness” and “love”. The words “trapped”, “kill” and “jail” feature among the lowest ranked.
The research showed that tweets sent from under a tree were 2.5 per cent happier than the average. Schwartz described the increase as “pretty big”.
“(It) is about the equivalent increase that Twitter as a whole experiences on Christmas day,” the researcher explained.
Earlier research based on the hedometer, which collects and scores approximately 50 million tweets each day, found that Christmas was the happiest day of the year on Twitter.
The researchers state that the survey’s findings could have important consequences for the future of city living.
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“With so many people in the world’s biggest cities suffering from ever hotter streets and polluted air, mayors are turning to trees and re-wilding to create havens for people that help our planet breathe as well,” Donna Hume, head of campaigns at the C40 cities network, told the news outlet.
Marcus Collie, an botany expert at Trinity College Dublin, added that the study shows a positive trend that has long been known – that nature and happiness and interlinked.
“If you can ‘prescribe’ a visit to nature, and this is happening on a daily basis, you can achieve a lot of health benefits at practically no personal cost. Plus you dog and your kids will thank you!” Collie said.
Last year, the United Nations stated that 68 per cent of the world population are projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
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The 2018 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, published by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), also predicted that “the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050”.